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New Gadgets and Apps Aim to Curb Distracted Driving

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author photo by Lindsay Martell

From screaming kids to exuberant pets and hurried snacking, the car has become a haven for distractions. And when you throw in beeping smartphones and other look-at-me gadgets, those distractions allow for some dangerous trends.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 3,000 people died in distracted driving crashes in 2010. Since most states are banning texting and handheld calling behind the wheel, with violators facing hefty fines, it's no surprise car manufacturers and technology companies are rolling out gadgets and apps to make it tougher to read those emails or jot off a quick text.

Take Ford, for example. In its vehicles equipped with MyFord Touch, the newest version of its in-car infotainment system, the Do Not Disturb feature lets you block incoming calls and texts while the car is moving. For those who absolutely must get their texts, you can turn on the Bluetooth Message Access Profile to hear those messages instead of reading them. The system does allow for outgoing, hands-free calls in case of emergency.

But you don't need to drive a Ford to reap the safety benefits of this "don't bug me, I'm driving" feature. Apple has its own Do Not Disturb option as part of its just-launched iOS 6. It silences your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, and doesn't even light up when you receive an incoming call or text, eliminating any temptations to take a quick peek. And to make sure you don't forget to enable it, you can set up a schedule for it to turn on and off automatically. Like Ford's Do Not Disturb feature, Apple doesn't want you to miss emergency calls either. You can set up a list of favorite numbers that will come through even if you've activated the blocking function.

If you want to save money by getting a used car but you still want to exercise some control over your teen's driving habits, Louisiana-based Cellcontrol has a device for you. It plugs into the on-board diagnostic (OBD) port of your car (located below the steering column in all vehicles 1996 or newer) and communicates with mobile devices. When the car is in motion, a blocking screen pops up, preventing any texting or talking. When the car stops, the blocking screen disappears.

While technology has made serious strides in keeping us safe behind the wheel, we're pretty much tempting fate any time we take our eyes off the road. Even the font on navigational devices and control systems can influence distracted driving. Researchers at MIT's AgeLab found that male drivers spent more time glancing at the screen when the text was in a modern script than a cleaner font. It's a minor point, but one worth considering if you're looking to buy a car for your young driver.

With a plethora of technologies to choose from, let's hope we all remember to fire up the apps and plug-in the devices that can keep us from becoming another tragic statistic.

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New Gadgets and Apps Aim to Curb Distracted Driving